Monday, September 20, 2010

Sermon: The Cup of Discipleship

Date: September 5, 2010
Sermon Text: Luke 14:25-33

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

[Introduction] The liturgy of our church is a scary thing. For some of us who have come to Anglicanism later in life, it is scary because it is new. The words sound funny on our tongues. We’re not sure where to pause during the Nicene Creed. We often speak out of turn. For those of you who grew up with the liturgy, it might be scary because it is so familiar. It could be that whole worship services go by without the words penetrating the haze of the busy-ness of our weeks. But for both old and new, the liturgy is a frightful thing for a quite different reason. Every week, the liturgy tricks us. It tricks us into saying words that commit us once again to the life of discipleship. It prompts us to reaffirm our baptismal vows. It calls us out of ourselves into a new kind of life. But it does all this without often asking us to count the cost.

[Page 1] This was the question that Jesus asks the crowd in our Gospel lesson today. It was only four chapters previous that Jesus, knowing his death was imminent, set his face towards Jerusalem (9.51). Since then, Jesus has been on the long, slow journey to that city on the hill. On his way, he has preached and healed. As a result, he has drawn a large following. The crowd is immense, and they are traveling with him to Jerusalem.

Why they are traveling with him we could only guess. The rumor has likely spread that this man is the Messiah, come to rescue the people from its Roman oppressors and to restore the Kingdom of Israel to its former glory. Perhaps some follow Jesus because they think that if they stay close, they can be with him when he makes his move on the authorities at Jerusalem. Others are thinking that there ought to be a reward for their faithfulness so early in the Messiah’s career. Perhaps others think to win honor for themselves and for their families. Whatever the case, whatever the desire, a great crowd of people are following Jesus as he travels to Jerusalem.

Jesus has gathered a large number of people, a vast army, but, quite differently than we might expect, he does everything in his power to drive them away. Suddenly, he turns on them and tells them they are carrying too much baggage to make this journey with him. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” He turns on them and forces them to make a decision. In order to be Jesus’ disciple, they have to put aside everything else but him, even to the point of cutting all family ties, losing their lives, and carrying a cross.

Why should they decide? Because Jesus thinks that people should not embark on a long, hard journey, like the one they are making to Jerusalem, without first counting the cost. He chooses two examples very relevant to their lives, taken straight from the headline news. First, he says that no one should build a tower until they sit down and make sure that they have the resources to do it well. Because, just a few years previous, a large amphitheater had collapsed and killed a number of people. The people following Jesus knew all too well the importance of counting the cost before building. Jesus’ second example: no king should go to war without first making sure that he has the army to overcome his enemies. Like when Herod Antipas, within living memory, went to war against a neighboring and weaker vassal state AND LOST. The people knew from a painful event in recent history that it’s important to count the cost of war before starting one.

And, Jesus implies, this journey of being one of his disciples is a far greater endeavor than building towers or waging wars. It is far more important. It is far more costly. To the great crowd behind him, who was following him to Jerusalem, Jesus forces a decision. Will you be my disciples? Will you truly count the cost? Will you take this bitter cup I give you and drink it to the dregs?

[Page 2] We all come to church for different reasons. Some of us come for the fellowship, some of us for the food. Some of us come for the preaching, some for the music. All these reasons are well and good, and they get us here on Sunday mornings, facing the rising sun, to worship. We have our faces set east towards Jerusalem, the same city to which Jesus takes us. We are all following Jesus together, regardless of our motives or intentions. Every Sunday we return to hear God’s Word, to pray, and to follow Jesus, yet again, to the Cross and the Empty Tomb.

But, it’s easy to grow complacent. It’s easy to stop thinking about what it will take to complete this journey, to finish this race. Just like Jesus turned on the crowd in our passage today, Jesus from time to time uses some part of the liturgy, some aspect of the sermon, some tremulous chord in a hymn, to call us to account, to call us to make a decision. Just like he did with the crowd following him to Jerusalem, he turns on us and asks, “Will you be my disciple?”

There are many things that hinder us in our journey with Jesus, and Jesus knows them by name. There is the pressure of family. Its tasks and its obligations weigh us down. It keeps us from seeing the world the way it truly is. Our families often force us into compromises and lies and distractions. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters . . . cannot be my disciple.” How is this even possible? What can I do to be saved?

“So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions,” Jesus said. How is this even possible? What can I do to be saved?

If that were not enough, then there is life itself. Jesus says that we have to hate life itself to be his disciples. The costs are too high! Who of us can really be Jesus’ disciple? What can any of us do to be saved?

When Jesus turns on us, he tells us to count the cost, yet again. He hands us the cup of discipleship and asks, “Will you drink from the same cup from which I have drunk? Will you drink it to the dregs?”

[Page 3] What no one in that crowd that day could know, even though Jesus had hinted at it from time to time, is that Jesus is the one who counts the cost. Jesus has his face set for Jerusalem, for the cross, for certain death. He knows this up front. He knows what this journey will cost him. He has counted the cost, and he believes that what he will do, what he will accomplish, our salvation, is worth it.

Jesus counted the cost and put aside father and mother, wife and children. Earlier in his ministry, his mother and brothers come to him while he is teaching. They think he has gone crazy (Mk 3:20f.), and they try to bring him home. There and then he asks the people he is teaching: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Answering his own question, he says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:33, 35). In a cultural world where the family was what made you who you are, Jesus declares something different. Doing the will of God puts you in a new family. Jesus put aside all ties to family in order to serve God.

Jesus counted the cost and put aside all his possessions. Trained as a carpenter, knowledgeable and good, Jesus could have pursued a fulfilling career, set aside some money and retired in peace. Instead, when he heard his Father’s call, he counted the cost and gave it all up. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).

Jesus counted the cost and put aside his very life. From the day of his baptism, if not earlier, Jesus bore the whole weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders. Himself true God of true God, begotten not made, and yet made flesh and begotten of the Virgin Mary, Jesus carried all that was wrong with the world in his very person. In his own sinless life, he corrected and shoved off all that hinders and entangles human beings. And finally, he took it all to the cross, and destroyed it. In his life, death, and resurrection, he set humanity free.

For us, and in our place, he took the bitter cup of discipleship in hand. And unlike weak and sinful people, he drank it to the dregs. On the cross, Jesus did for the crowd what they could never do for themselves. He was the one true disciple, the one true tower builder, the one true king going out to war. He counted the cost and took all of the costs onto himself.

[Page 4] And so here, now, in St. Matthew’s Riverdale, as we face the risen Son, we too hear Jesus’ voice: Will you be my disciple? Will you count the cost and follow me? Will you take the cup of discipleship that I drank for you? Will you put me before your family, before your possessions, before your own life? Jesus is calling us to be his disciples. He is calling us to count the cost. But how? In response to Jesus’ call, there are three things we can do: believe, repent, and commit.

First, believe. “What must I do to be saved?” the Roman guard asked Paul. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” When Jesus meets us here, the first thing we are called to do is believe in him. Believe that his life and work were for you. Believe that because of what Jesus did, you are beloved by God. We will act out our common belief in a few moments when we recite the Nicene Creed. When you have the opportunity, believe with all your heart.

Second, repent. As you know, to repent just means to stop walking one direction and to start walking another. When we open our eyes and believe that this world is God’s world that has been saved by Jesus Christ, we start to realize that we have things in our lives that hold us back, things that weigh us down, things that need to be put aside. For some of us, this very literally means getting rid of some of our DVDs, or our music, or stepping away from a dangerous and distracting relationship. For others of us, it means turning away from our constant focus on ourselves, to working to reconcile a broken relationship, or to spending more time with the poor. Repentance says, “I’m sorry I was that way. Now, with God’s help, I will be different.” We will act out our common repentance in a few moments when we say the Confession and receive forgiveness for our sins. When you have the opportunity, repent with all your heart.

Third, commit. For the early Christians, belief and repentance were sealed in the commitment made in baptism – not only for themselves but for their whole families. For the unbaptized here, the first step in following Jesus is baptism. If you are interested in baptism, for yourself or for someone you know, please use one of the Welcome to St. Matthew’s cards in the pew to let us know.

In the early centuries of the church, and as more and more people were born Christians, the rite of Confirmation was adapted to allow a second sacramental time for commitment. For the baptized, Confirmation says, “Yes, as an adult, this is the life I choose. I choose to be a disciple of Jesus. I choose to count the cost and to live in His new world.” If you are interested in Confirmation for yourself or someone you know, please use one of the cards in the pews to let us know.

And let us not forget that commitment goes beyond big events like Baptism and Confirmation. It could be for you that the most practical way to heed Jesus’ call is to commit to the Simply Christian class, and to the small groups which will come out of it. If you are interested in Simply Christian for yourself or someone you know, please use one of the cards in the pews to let us know. When the time comes to commit, commit with all your heart.

I began by saying that the liturgy of our church is a scary thing. It calls us into question and lays us bare before the God who hears our prayers. But, isn’t the liturgy also a life-giving thing as well? It leads us every week through the pattern of belief, repentance, and commitment. Then, at the end, it sets us up on our feet and says, “Go! Follow Christ into the world. Get your hands dirty. See what God is doing and join him there.” Get ready, brothers and sisters, because at the close of this sermon, you will enter into the heart of our worship. Use this time as a way to believe, repent, and commit. Then, receive the blessing of Christ. For he is the one who when asked to count the cost, thought of each one of us, and drank that cup of discipleship for us. He is the one who drank it to the dregs.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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